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UN Political Chief Says Conditions Deteriorating in Burma

The U.N. Security Council is attempting to pressure Burma's military rulers to release political prisoners and accept democratic reforms. The council received a symbolic briefing from a senior U.N. official.

The top U.N. political officer, Undersecretary- General Ibrahim Gambari gave the Council a 25-minute presentation Friday on Burma's deteriorating political situation. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also attended.

The closed-door briefing was mostly symbolic, because Burma is not on the permanent Council agenda as a threat to international peace and security. But afterward, the Council president for December, British Ambassador Emir Jones-Parry said the presentation was comprehensive.

"What we heard was a litany of the problems which confront Myanmar/Burma. The dire political social and economic situation, the continued detention of political prisoners, the serious spread of disease, especially HIV/AIDS, the food insecurity, recruitment of child soldiers, the systematic abuse of human rights, the lack of progress to tackle internal conflict, lack of any progress on internal constitutional reform, all those points with the increased movement of drugs, all these points were highlighted," he said.

Though Burma is not on the agenda, several members, including the United States and Britain, argue that it should be.

They contend that the country's steady deterioration, and the detention of political foes such as Aung San Suu Kyi, does threaten regional stability. Denmark's U.N. Ambassador Ellen-Margrethe Loj said the briefing was intended as a message of grave concern to Rangoon's military junta.

"It is a clear signal that the world is not forgetting how the people are suffering in Burma and the situation is actually going from bad to worse. We have actually had Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for how many years, it's just been prolonged. The people of Myanmar are getting poorer and poorer, AIDS is spreading, possibility to move forward, the UN has not been able to visit Burma for close to two years, I think it would be amiss of the Council to go on as if nothing happened in Burma considering the huge amount of people that are suffering," he said.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton requested the briefing. Afterward, he said progress had been made in persuading several reluctant Council members to place Burma on the permanent agenda.

But China, Russia and others oppose the U.S. proposal. Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali Friday said he remains unconvinced that Burma meets the "threat to peace security" test. "The Security Council, according to the charter, has a mandate to maintain peace and security. When the situation does not constitute a threat to peace and security, the Security Council should not get involved," he said.

As he left the briefing Secretary-General Annan said he was encouraged by the decision of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, to send Malaysia's foreign minister to Rangoon to assess Burma's progress toward democracy.

The secretary-general's own envoy has been refused entry to Burma since March, 2004.

Burma's failure to allow democracy and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi in the face an international outcry has become one of ASEAN's biggest political challenges.

The U.N. envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail was quoted this week as saying he doubts the Malaysian foreign minister's visit to Rangoon could achieve a breakthrough. Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, the envoy also said he sees little chance of success for ASEAN's campaign to win the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.